Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday

On Monday, Andrew and I worked outside most of the day.

There were occasional rain showers on Monday, but the showers did not interfere seriously with our work. The showers were short, and involved only light rainfall.

We performed some exterior touchup painting and performed some trimming of shrubbery and a couple of trees.

It was not serious work, and we found our tasks to be as much play as labor.

The dog certainly viewed a whole day outside as play!

Andrew’s mother was gone most of the day. She had a church meeting in the morning, and afterward she went to the care facility to have lunch with her mother. She spent most of the afternoon at the facility, which had to be painful for her, as Andrew’s grandmother is now 96 years old and very seldom recognizes anyone. Her “lucid intervals” are less and less frequent now, if not practically nonexistent.

Andrew’s mother is the “baby” of her family, just as Andrew is the “baby” of his family. Andrew’s mother was born several years after her nearest sibling, and her mother always doted on her (as did her father).

Andrew’s mother is the only one in her family that visits the care facility several times a week. The reward for her devotion is observing the mother she has always loved survive in body but not in spirit—and that is no reward at all.

When Andrew’s mother returned home, we all decided we should go out for the evening and do something fun, even if only for a few hours.

We faced one small problem: there really is not much to do in Minneapolis on a Monday evening in the summer months (unless one is an avid baseball fan and the Twins are having a home stand).

For lack of alternatives, and because we had a taste for Italian food, we decided to go to Southdale once Andrew’s father got home from work. We thought that a walk through Southdale might be a relaxing, low-key way to kill a couple of hours, and that dinner at Maggiano’s Little Italy might be a splendid way to conclude a Southdale excursion.

And that’s what we did. Andrew and I cleaned up, and we waited for Andrew’s father to arrive so that we could all drive over to Southdale.

Southdale was America’s first fully-enclosed, climate-controlled shopping mall. A project of Viennese architect Victor Gruen, Southdale opened in 1956. It was the prototype of the modern American shopping mall. Much of the original structure remains intact, exactly as it was more than half a century ago.

Southdale has been greatly expanded and modernized over the decades—it is now more than sixty per cent larger than the original structure—but it still features the giant central spaces and multi-level European-style arcades that Gruen designed in the early 1950’s, features that were not to be incorporated into the countless malls that followed in Southdale’s wake.

Other than the shopping mall itself, the bulk of Gruen’s scheme for Southdale was never realized. Gruen wanted the shopping mall to be one of many components of a multi-use residential and commercial center, a place where people might gather for art, culture, political meetings, socializing—and shopping.

The city fathers of Edina, however, had other ideas. They did not like the other parts of Gruen’s original vision (apartment buildings, office buildings, schools, medical centers, small, practical individual houses) because the rest of the project would have involved an invasion of Edina by the middle classes, which city fathers sought to avoid.

City fathers were happy to see people from elsewhere come to Edina and spend their money—but city fathers wanted those same persons to leave town after their wallets had been emptied.

And city fathers got their wish: the shopping mall was the only portion of Gruen’s grand project that was built. Gruen became embittered over the outcome, viewing it as a perversion of his original scheme.

I wonder what Gruen might make of the Southdale of today. Over the years, Southdale has gone more and more upscale, catering more and more conspicuously, if not exclusively, to the well-heeled. I especially wonder what Gruen might make of Southdale’s host of concierge services geared to the wealthy—as well as its valet parking.

Persons not from Edina, I believe, are now expected to give Southdale a pass and head to The Mall Of America instead.

I have always found it enjoyable to walk around Southdale. The grand spaces are still attractive, and still unique.

The interior might be mistaken for the grand public promenades of a giant museum devoted to modern art. (“THIS is the building New York’s Museum Of Modern Art should inhabit” were Andrew’s first words to me the first time I stepped inside Southdale.)

There definitely remains something compelling about Southdale, despite its proliferation of overpriced luxury shops. (The Galleria, Edina’s other shopping mall, is similarly upscale, if not more so.)

We walked through the entire center before we had dinner, without intention of buying anything. We were there solely for a stroll and some moseying.

Andrew’s mother used to love to shop at Southdale. For five decades, Southdale always housed no fewer than two superb department stores.

Southdale used to have a Dayton’s, a Minneapolis-based department store chain, which was sold to Chicago-based Marshall Field’s in the early years of this decade. Andrew’s mother always liked Dayton’s, and she always liked Marshall Field’s.

Marshall Field’s was sold to Macy’s in 2006, and the current store at Southdale is a Macy’s—and Macy’s, alas, is no Dayton’s or Marshall Field’s.

Southdale also used to have a Donaldson’s, another Minneapolis-based department store chain, which was sold to Chicago-based Carson Pirie Scott at the end of the 1990’s. Andrew’s mother always liked Donaldson’s, and she always liked Carson Pirie Scott.

Carson Pirie Scott was sold to California-based Mervyns a few years ago—and Mervyns, alas, was no Donaldson’s or Carson Pirie Scott.

In any case, Mervyns is no more—the company declared bankruptcy in 2008 and closed all stores.

Consequently, there is now a giant (and quite beautiful) four-level department store building in Southdale that is vacant, awaiting a decision about its future. It would provide ideal space for Lord And Taylor or Nieman-Marcus, but I suspect the space will remain empty until the outlook for retail trade improves.

Once we had taken a gander at everything at Southdale we wanted to see, and explored a few stores, we went to Maggiano’s Little Italy for dinner.

At Maggiano’s, one has the option of eating family style. This was the option we chose, since it allowed us to sample a larger variety of foods.

We ordered two appetizers: stuffed mushrooms; and sausage and peppers.

We ordered two salads: spinach salad; and Caesar salad.

We ordered two pastas: baked zitti and sausage; and chicken and spinach manicotti.

For dessert, we had lemon cookies.

It was a perfect dinner, because each of us received a half serving of six different foods. The food was excellent.

Despite the fact that our dinner had been more than ample for us, our dinner had been the “light” family-style dinner. The “classic” family-style dinner includes two additional entrees. We would not have been able to make it through a “classic” family-style dinner—it simply would have been too much food for us.

It was a good Monday-night outing for us. It got us out of the house for a few pleasant hours, the main purpose of our visit to Southdale—and we enjoyed a nice dinner, too, without having to cook and clean up afterward.

Yesterday there were more rain showers, but the rain showers did not impact us—and this was because we did NOTHING AT ALL for the entire day.

We read, and listened to music, and played with the dog, and performed a few small household tasks, and that was it. There was nothing else we wanted to do, and nowhere we wanted to go. It was a relaxation day, pure and simple, and a very successful one.

Among other things, Andrew and I poured over old travel guidebooks covering Munich, Bavaria and Austria. Even though we already have our Munich and Austria itinerary fixed, we had a ball reading from the ancient travel guides. Andrew and I love to read old travel books, and so does Andrew’s mother. Much of what we read was genuinely not out-of-date (except for the quoted prices).

Today, after breakfast, Andrew’s mother and Andrew and I (and the dog) went to spend the day with Lizbeth, Tim and Helena.

All morning we played outside with the kids—or, more accurately, we played outside with Tim while Helena looked on.

Tim has a new gizmo, ESPN Better Batter Baseball, and Andrew and I played baseball with him for half an hour.

In our version of baseball, no one but Tim is ever at bat.

Once Tim hit the ball hanging from the ESPN Better Batter Baseball machine, he got to run the bases. Afterward, he went right back to the plate and was at bat again.

The game holds his attention for half an hour, no more, and we played a few other games with him, too, including kickball. We also pulled him around the yard in his wagon.

This afternoon, after he woke from his nap, Tim decided to play with his building blocks. Andrew and I sat down on the floor alongside and watched him. He is very serious about his building blocks. He built something—he said it was “Grandma’s house”, which could have fooled us—and then he waited for his Dad to come home (and his Granddad, and his Uncle Alex, too).

We all had dinner together (fried chicken, potato salad, baked beans) before it was time for us to come home.

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